Outspoken forestry NGO Global Witness is shutting down its Cambodia office due to security concerns for its local staff and harassment of international staff, the organization’s Mike Davis said on Tuesday.
Mike Davis said the closure of the Phnom Penh office of Global Witness was prompted by a government-imposed ban on five international staff members entering the country and an ongoing concern about the safety of the NGO’s Cambodian staffers.
Global Witness was sacked from its job monitoring forestry crimes by the government over its outspoken reporting in 2003 and has continued to spar with the government over its naming officials who the NGO alleges are involved in illegal logging.
Despite Global Witness’ departure, Davis maintained that the group would still continue to vigorously monitor Cambodian forestry issues.
“It will be disruptive to our work in the short term, but in the general scheme of things it doesn’t alter our commitment here,” said Davis in an interview.
“We’ll continue to look into issues at the heart of the forestry debate, such as the theft of Cambodia’s assets by the same political elite,” he said.
“We had a strong basis for believing that the security and safety of our Cambodian staff was under serious threat,” said Davis, who declined to go into detail. “As far as the entry restrictions, we’ve never had any official notification about why we weren’t allowed into the country.”
But, Davis added: “If they thought it would end our work here they were certainly mistaken.”
Davis is currently in the country on a valid visa during his roughly weeklong trip from Britain.
Government spokesman Khieu Kanharith said there was “no problem” with Global Witness staff entering the country.
“We did not blacklist Global Witness. If they want to travel in the country they can unless the government issues a blacklist in the future,” Khieu Kanharith said.
“But [the Ministry of Foreign Affairs] no longer has a contract with them because Global Witness made a very biased report and violated the ‘right to reply’ agreement they made with the government,” he said.
“They operated more like the press than an NGO.”
Ministry of Foreign Affairs Secretary of State Long Visalo said in July that at least five members of the organization had been barred from entering Cambodia.
After the government terminated its contract with Global Witness in 2003, the Forestry Administration contracted Swiss-based Societe Generale de Surveillance as its forestry monitor.